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Addressing digital exclusion at Clwyd Alyn Housing Association

From Louise Blackwell, Community Development Officer, Clwyd Alyn Housing Association / Pennaf Housing Group

At this week’s ‘Community Regeneration through Digital Inclusion’ conference, our presentation will: give an overview as to why digital inclusion is a key priority for us at Clwyd Alyn; explain what we have been doing, over the last year or so, to address digital exclusion in the areas where we operate and impart key lessons regarding what we have learned when addressing digital exclusion with our residents.

We know digital inclusion is very important for our residents in order for them to:

  • Have easier access to essential services that can benefit their quality of life (i.e. relevant Local Authority information; renewing road tax)
  • Feel involved and included (i.e. using social media to keep in contact with friends and family who live away, in order to prevent and reduce loneliness and isolation)
  • Build skills and employability (i.e. know how to conduct online job searches and applications and create effective CVs)
  • Save money – through using reliable money comparison sites and accessing online offers and discounts
  • Claim benefits online – this will be essential when Universal Credit is rolled out

We have been supported in our efforts to address digital exclusion by many partners, including:

  • Communities 2.0 (which previously delivered ‘First Click’ courses in schemes where residents expressed an interest)
  • Digital Communities Wales (which kindly allocated digital equipment, such as mi-fis and laptops, to help our residents get online and have run ‘Digital Champion’ courses – to give our officers and resident volunteers the confidence and capabilities to support others to get online in the communities where they live and work
  • Private businesses – have kindly delivered training for our residents (i.e. ‘Job Ready sessions organised by Airbus) and donated laptops which have benefitted our Supported Living and Sheltered Housing residents
  • External funders – who have provided grants to some local Resident Associations, enabling them to: install much needed equipment and deliver courses, which have upskilled elderly residents.

Overall then, with support from: some of our contractors, grant funders and other partners, we have delivered a wide range of positive digital inclusion events and activities for our residents. These include: Clwyd Alyn’s 2015 Residents Conference, which included a wide range of educational workshops and interactive, fun activities, all focused around a digital inclusion theme; an intergenerational paired reading project in Abergele (which helped improve young people’s literacy as well as elderly residents’ digital skills); and ‘silent cinema’ events (i.e. which showcase black and white Charlie Chaplin movies, accompanied by music from an organist!) in our Extra Care schemes.

In terms of the key lessons we have learned, these are to:

  • Always start by identifying residents’ specific barriers to digital inclusion and then work to address these. For example, is cost or transport an issue and also what might motivate them to get involved (i.e. a unique ‘hook’/ hobby to focus sessions around to keep them relevant and interesting)
  • Keep sessions simple and jargon free
  • Work in partnership whenever possible
  • Always tailor sessions to residents’ individual needs and wishes
  • Celebrate achievements afterwards – including linking in with the local press to increase awareness in the wider community.